General Motors spins up global supply chain to make 50,000 face masks a day

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GM today announced manufacturing details around building much-needed medical face masks. According to the company’s press release, it took the company less than seven days to go from nothing to producing the first production-made mask. The automotive giant said today in a released statement it expects to deliver 20,000 masks on April 8 and soon after, able to produce 50,000 masks a day once the production line is at full capacity.

These face masks are a vital piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by front-line healthcare staff to protect themselves against the virus-causing droplets that are spread by patients through coughing and sneezing in clinical settings.

GM turned to global partners to create this manufacturing line within a week. The company sourced material from GM’s existing supply chain and acquired manufacturing equipment from JR Automation in Holland, Michigan, and Esys Automation in Auburn Hills, Michigan. As the company’s press release says, GM even created an ISO Class 8-equivalent cleanroom in GM’s Warren manufacturing plant. GM and the UAW will seek two dozen volunteers to staff this new assembly line.

“The first people we called were those who work with fabric vehicle components,” said Karsten Garbe, GM plant director, Global Pre-Production Operations. “In a few days, the company’s seat belt and interior trim experts became experts in manufacturing face masks.”

While this team was creating a face mask assembly line, others within GM were working towards creating ventilators. Last Friday, March 27, President Donald Trump signed a presidential directive ordering GM to produce ventilators and to prioritize federal contracts. This came hours after the automaker announced plans to manufacture the critical medical equipment needed for patients suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Other automakers joined the fight, as well. Ford and GE Healthcare licensed a ventilator design from Airon Corp and plan to produce as many as 50,000 of them at a Michigan factory by July as part of a broader effort to provide a critical medical device used to treat people with COVID-19. Under this partnership, Ford said it expects to produce 1,500 Airon ventilators by the end of April, 12,00 by the end of May, and 50,000 by July.

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